Discovering dementia, check the bank account

Health Watch

ORLANDO, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — More than five million Americans live with dementia, which is an umbrella term for loss of memory, language, problem-solving and other thinking abilities that interfere with daily life. Surprisingly, more than half don’t even know they have it. While getting lost, forgetting events, and struggling with vocabulary are common red flags we notice early on, can changes in finances be the blind spot we never thought to look at? As Ivanhoe reports, we might have seen the signs years earlier.

That missed bill payment may mean so much more than an oversight.

“It’s difficult to differentiate Alzheimer’s/dementia from normal aging because we all experience these memory slips as we age,” said Gary Small, MD, Director at UCLA Longevity Center.

One study found that dementia patients were more likely to miss payments up to six years before being diagnosed, and subprime credit scores can show up two and a half years prior. Dementia actually accounted for up to 20 percent of the missed payments.

“The earlier you can diagnose someone and treat them, the better their overall outcome,” explained Dr. Small.

To recognize the early warning signs in loved ones, look out for unpaid or unopened bills piling up in the house, irregular buying of items they already own or don’t need, paying for the wrong month or paying bills twice, requesting the same financial information, like passwords and account numbers, multiple times a day, and difficulty in math skills, such as counting change, calculating a tip, balancing a checkbook, or understanding a bank statement. If your loved one is diagnosed, talk about obtaining a durable power of attorney.

“You can go ahead and pay his or her bills. You can help them make medical decisions when they can’t speak for themselves,” shared Goretti Garcia, MBA, a financial planner at Woman’s Worth.

They may feel a loss of control, so giving them small amounts of cash and minimizing the spending limits on their credit cards can keep them feeling independent without risking any drastic losses.

In the study, patients with a lower level of education who later developed dementia started missing payments nearly seven years pre-diagnosis. Higher educated patients didn’t show until two and a half years before. While the reason is unclear, experts say less advantaged groups lack the ability to get access to quality care and that could play a part.

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